The scooter that thinks it’s a bike, the purple prototype that’s not sure what it is, and the editor who doesn’t give a damn what they are as long as they’re entertaining.
Sometimes I feel like the man with the big bass drum in the Salvation Army band. When I was a young kid I’d see them most Sundays, delivering their songs of praise and redemption for the great unwashed; and they always proclaimed their message with the unshakeable joy and eternal optimism of true believers. Well that’s exactly how I feel when I start banging the old “as long as it’s got two wheels and an engine” drum. It honestly doesn’t bother me knowing that a substantial section of the audience thinks I’m some sort of happy-clappy saddo; I’m content to smile indulgently in the face of their scorn, comfortable in the knowledge that my existence is all the richer for my deeper appreciation of the important things in life.
I realise that motorcycles mean different things to different people. For many they’re simply a cheaper more convenient way of grinding out the daily commute than the car that they use for everything else. For others they are the complete opposite, they’re something special to be saved, only to be savoured on sunny days that start with an S; while for another group again, bikes will have been a defining feature of who they are for as long as anyone can remember and they continue to be as much a fundamental part of their daily lives as their partners and their children. All I’m saying is that I believe that there are a lot of people in all of those categories, who would really benefit if they were able to set their preconceptions aside next time they are considering what bike would best suit them.
Imagine for a moment that a motorcycling fairy godmother appears in your garage and offers to wave her magic wand and stock it with a bike for every occasion (yes she’ll supply a skip for the exercise bike, the old sofa and all the other crap – she’ll even build an extension if you need it!). Would you really choose a Ninja, a ‘blade, a Gixxer and an R1; every bike in Harley’s ’09 model range; or maybe half a dozen GS1200s, sprayed in different colours? Given that you have enough mental flexibility to get your head around the idea of a fairy godmother, it’s interesting to discover that you are so resolute in your determination not to exercise your imagination when it comes to the plethora of two wheeled options available.
Forget about what fits with your image – or the image that you’re trying to foster more to the point – think about the kind of things you could do with increased style, comfort or convenience if you had the best machine for the purpose. Of course you can ride around the world on a supermoto if you’re determined to make a point – I’m sure there’ll be someone doing it on a pogo stick dressed in a bunny outfit as I write – but unless the point that you’re trying to prove is that you’re a couple of cold cuts short of the full smorgasbord, why wouldn’t you look at everything on offer before choosing the right tool for the job?
I decided to lump the T-Max and the DN-01 in together because, aside from the fact that they both have automatic boxes (and are both enormous fun to ride), they are actually very different machines, so I thought that between them they might be able to address some of the criticisms levelled at twist and go machines.
So, have you ever ridden a big twist and go? Forget about the 50 or 125 you might have used on L-plates, the difference between a CVT (Continuously Variable Transmission) driven by an eighth of a litre and one that has 500cc or more at its disposal, is just about the equivalent of comparing a Nissan Micra auto with a big Merc; one is intended to deliver maximum performance with minimum effort, while the other one’s designed to get arthritic old ladies down to Waitrose and back.
We all know how much fun it can be to hustle along on a bike with a willing engine, good brakes, and decent suspension and tyres; and providing it has a slick gearbox it can be very satisfying tip-toeing your way up and down to ensure that you can accelerate hard out of the next bend. However, once you’ve got the hang of your bike’s power characteristics it’s hardly complicated, so if the bike is willing to do it for you, and it can do it every bit as well as you can – every time – why wouldn’t you leave it to it? It’s not like gear changing is some sort of constitutional right that needs to be preserved, like the American right to bear arms and invade smaller countries. OK gears can be helpful when you first start riding and you’re trying to screw all twelve horses out of a Chinese 125, but once you’ve got a bit of power in your right hand and everything’s moving a bit quicker, surely it makes sense to concentrate on your braking and your line and leave it to the CVT to ensure that you’ve always got all the grunt you need, whenever you need it.
The T-Max has established a reputation as the sportiest of the super scooters, not because it has the highest top speed – that honour probably goes to the big Burgman or Gilera’s GP800 – but because of its nippy, eminently chuckable handling and great brakes. At last year’s Thundersprint, confirmed feet-forwardphile Paul Blezard, hustled his Mk3 T-Max round the twisty Cheshire track in a time that was barely half a second off the pace of racing legend Giacamo Agostini on a modern MV Augusta 750; and sure enough around the crowded streets of London I didn’t come across many bikes that were as quick. The Yamaha was equally at home on rolling rural roads, and covered the 150 mile roundtrip to Wivenhoe in Essex, with all the ease and entertainment you’d expect from a good middleweight.
The DN-01 comes with HFT (Human Friendly Transmission); I’m not really sure how it works but in practice it feels no different to a regular CVT. The Honda does provide the rider with the option of clutch free manual ‘gear changes’, but the automatic set up works so efficiently that after a quick fiddle, because it was there, I left it in ‘Drive’ and allowed the technology to take care of business, leaving me to concentrate on carving through the traffic quickly; and that’s something the purple poser did surprisingly well. The day I picked it up, by the time I turned onto Leigham Court Road at Streatham Hill, I’d established that I was the undisputed winner of that rush hour’s A23 GP, having been ahead at every major checkpoint between there and the Elephant & Castle. Admittedly I hadn’t come up against a Polish courier trying to ride fast enough to make up for the pound’s dizzying drop in value, or a Brazilian pizza boy trying to knock out a Four Seasons and a couple of pepperoni feasts before they’d stopped steaming; but aside from all the regular commuters we left in our wake, there was a KTM Duke and at least two or three big sportsbikes trying hard to keep up.
I suspect that part of the problem some men have with scooters is the ‘step-through’ seating, which they consider to be somehow effeminate like they’re riding side-saddle or something; the DN-01 however, gives a rider the opportunity to explore the joys of an automatic transmission, while still allowing him to look butch as he manfully swings a leg up and over to mount it. It sits on regular 17” wheels and once aboard – auto box aside – it feels just like a ‘normal’ bike to ride; in fact from a flickability point of view, it’s far sportier than any of the cruisers that I’ve ridden.
When Rod rode the DN-01 at the Honda open day he agreed that it was a very enjoyable experience, but he was mystified as to why it was fitted with a handbrake. As the Digest’s regular twist & go road tester I’m happy to fill in the gaps in his education; it’s easy when you think about it, it’s a parking brake – because you can’t leave an auto in gear if you have to park on a hill! As for the screen, that’s even easier to answer, it’s obviously only there for aesthetic reasons, to make the front end look even more like a shark. Talking about looks, anyone who’s not quite as shy and retiring as I am and relishes being the centre of attention, certainly won’t be disappointed by the kind of reaction the DN-01 elicits; I can honestly say that I have never ridden another bike – including a full dresser Electra Glide and a Rocket III – that gave rise to so many impromptu conversations with other road users and excitable pedestrians.
Why don’t you try something different for a change? You never know you might just surprise yourself and discover that you like it.
This article first in issue 136 of The Rider’s Digest in January 2009